When I think about the holidays from afar, say September or October I get really excited and often feel all the feelings you are “supposed” to feel during the holidays: warmth, coziness, contentment, peace, etc. Basically I think about scenes of families sitting around a fireplace drinking hot chocolate, and you know what, it feels good. I look forward to the holidays.
And then once the holidays arrive I still remain excited. I want to decorate, put up a tree, and do fun holiday events, but as the actual day approaches- for me this is Christmas- I feel an increasing amount of stress.
For many of us, the holidays are on the surface beautiful and happy, but underneath there can be feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and/or pain. Expectations can be so high that can result in an inevitable let down or memories of painful holidays past can be a dark cloud over the season, especially if there are/were family disappointments, conflict, or losses, which the holidays often amplify. Emotions run high, and the lows can be low.
So we have emotional stress in addition to more parties and social gathers that include more alcohol, more sugar, and more of everything. In the short term, celebrations can be fun and a great way to forget about any depression or anxiety you are experiencing, but there is always a price, and that is often our mental health.
I’m a big advocate of living your life without restrictions and this includes fun holiday events. But I also know that the excess sugar and alcohol is the enemy of boosting your mood during a time of year that is particularly difficult for many people. Sugar and alcohol throw fuel on the delicate mood fire.
What to do??? I mean, what is worse than not having a good time with friends, family, and co-workers? Excluding yourself is not the answer. Here’s where I remind myself that celebrations are for celebrating and the other times of December are for a special focus on health.
On these non-celebration times during December I make health my number one priority. That means, I workout, get plenty of sleep (or whatever I can manage), and I cook my own simple nourishing foods. I limit sugar, I don’t drink, and I take supplements. I take very intentional care of myself on the days and during the times that aren’t necessarily “special” which builds up my system and my resources so then when the parties, special dinners, and gatherings happen my body is able to handle them and bounce back more quickly. When the anxiety or depression kicks in I feel stronger and able to cope just a little bit better, and I also know that it’s even more important to be good to myself. Does this always go to plan? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, but I know I have the knowledge and the ability to make a new choice every minute.
The emotions will come regardless, but having a baseline of healthy eating, exercise, and rest can mitigate the emotional severity of the season. If you feel down during the holidays, you are in good company. If you overindulge, you are also in good company.
The key is to simply have a plan to bring yourself back into balance should your mood plummet, and it is the simple acts of self care that will help you the most. You don’t need to worry about a “cleanse” or a “detox,” you simply need to make some simple choices each day during December to keep you feeling as good as you can feel and giving you the balance you need to keep depression and anxiety at bay. They will both come, but you will know you can take care of yourself the best you can when they do. They are often just a part of this season, but they don’t have to take over the entire season and extend into January and beyond.
December Simple Acts of Self Care:
- DRINK WATER – LOTS OF IT. Drink water when you get up, throughout the day, and if you workout. Drink even more if you have been eating out or drinking. Drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink you have. (Your pee should be the color of straw.)
- EAT SIMPLY THROUGHOUT THE MONTH AND INDULGE ONLY WHEN IT’S TIME. This is the time for lots of vegetables, good protein, and healthy fats. Slow carbs (beans, lentils, brown rice, etc.) can be comforting while still supporting balanced blood sugar (which helps balance mood). Fermented foods/probiotics are a very good idea for this month as gut health is related to mental health.
- STOCK YOUR FRIDGE AND PANTRY WITH SIMPLE WHOLE FOODS. There should be no excuse for you not to have a healthy snack. Also it feels good to feel like you have a stocked kitchen. It’s a feeling of abundance that will help support you when feeling anxious or depressed.
- THROW OUT THE COOKIES, CANDY, AND CAKE AT HOME. You will get enough of those out in the world. Make your home a healthy haven, and stock up on comforting but healthy foods and snacks.
- LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, MIND & INTUITION. What do you most need during this season? Deep down you know. Listen to that voice/feeling.
- SCHEDULE IN SOME DOWN TIME AND PROTECT IT. You are in charge of your schedule so schedule in some down time, even if that means saying no to people and events. Prioritize and be realistic. Give yourself some grace.
- JOURNAL. Don’t keep your emotions locked up inside. Journal about how you feel and let them out. Share with people you trust. This time of year can be really hard.
- EXERCISE FOR 30 MINUTES EVERYDAY. If you want to jog, jog. If that feels too intense, walk. If you lift weights, great. If you go to yoga, awesome. Do anything, but just intentionally move and push your body a bit. Get the blood flowing. Exercise works wonders for emotional stress.